When the freshly crowned regular season champions from Villanova head to the Big Apple and Madison Square Garden this week for the Big East Tournament, likely no one will enjoy the trip more than JayVaughn Pinkston.
After all, it wasn’t that long ago like his fellow Wildcats, his career seemed to be headed down on a path to nowhere.
As a redshirt freshman two years ago he averaged 9.6 points and 5.2 rebounds on a 13-19 Villanova team, by far the poorest in Jay Wright’s 12-year tenure on the Main Line.
The reason Pinkston was redshirted? He’d been suspended from school the previous year for an off campus incident that involved a physical altercation.
The rust in his game was evident that season as the losses piled up. Uncertainty grew if the kid who’d been a high school sensation at Brooklyn’s Bishop Loughlin High was really as good as advertised. If it bothered him, Pinkston kept it inside and just allowed his skills to develop. So did the rest of his teammates.
That’s what makes the transformation they’ve made in just two years, going from 13-19 to 28-3 after dismantling Georgetown 77-59 Saturday, all the more remarkable.
“Wow, it’s unbelievable,’’ gushed Pinkston, who scored 13 points and pulled down seven rebounds for the No. 6 ranked Wildcats. “Coming from where we came from to now — 28 wins and bringing home the championship — is tremendous. But this is not the end for us. We want to go up there and be Conference tournament champion also.’’
And what better place to do it than home for the rugged 6-foot-7, 240 pound Pinkston?
“I’m not really sure what it will be like,’’ Pinkston said. “I know a lot of my family’s gonna come, but I don’t really worry about that. I’ll just focus on the next game, whoever our opponent is. Whatever happens, happens.’’
Whatever happens in the Big East tournament or once the NCAA’s Big Dance gets underway next week, Pinkston has already shown he can handle it. But if there’s any sense of vindication, any “I told you so’s’’ rummaging through his mind, he’s keeping them to himself.
“What’s done is done,’’ Pinkston said, “I’m just trying to move on from that, get a new start. What we’ve accomplished, it’s satisfying, But it’s not the end. We’re still working and I’m still working to be the best player I can be.’’
As it is Pinkston’s proven to be pretty special, particularly his knack of getting the ball in the post, then using a combination of muscle and finesse to create his own shot.
"It’s just me playing hard and getting to spots where I know I can be efficient,’’ said Pinkston, who’s shooting at a 52.7% clip. "That’s always been my game.I can handle the ball well and I’m better taking my time, getting to my spots and having my teammates get it to me.’’
Like so many of them, though, he’s emphasized putting his success, his agenda aside for the sake of the team. Rather than focus on big things they can’t control —like seedings or rankings-they dwell on the little things.
That’s the mantra Jay Wright chants to his team. They’ve listened.
"We don’t really think about anything else,’’ said Pinkston, on a team that will only lose one player—leading scorer James Bell—for next season. "Coach preaches to just worry about next game.It makes sense. You can’t get caught up in the other stuff and we could lose our next game and be done--just like that.’’
Don’t hold your breath waiting for that to happen — for the 28-3 Wildcats or JayVaughn Pinkston either. Yes, they’ve already come further than anyone could’ve dreamed.
So why stop now?